How I Leaned to Stop Worrying And Love The Day Off

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GoneFishing1

I took a day off yesterday.

But I didn’t sleep in. I still woke at 5am for my holy hour – time to curl up in our comfy living room chair and just read, journal and – gasp! – even think. Hard to do with your own business, three kids, and a spouse you’d like to connect with over more than what parenting crisis we needed to solve that day.

By 6:30, the kids began to stir.  I clamped down on my first instinct – to frantically finish setting the table before racing upstairs to pry them from their beds, help them pick weather-appropriate clothes and get downstairs with enough time to snarf breakfast.

Instead, I stretched – a decadent, full-body stretch that seemed to last for hours. Then I retreated to the basement study to – double gasp! – write. Above me, I heard Lori chiding the kids to move their groggy selves just a wee bit faster. There were, of course, protests. And by the time they all reached the kitchen, these minor protests had escalated to a full assault on Lori’s parental authority.

We need more brown sugar, Mommy.  It tastes funny.”
“You don’t. It’s oatmeal and quinoa and you’ll eat it.”

I heard a spoon skitter across the dining room table before hitting the hardwood floor that separated me from the rest of the family.

“Throwing silverware is not acceptable in this house, Olivia.”

There was no separation between me and my daughter’s screaming response….or Lori’s increasingly clipped replies. And while it was tempting to run up to the first floor, and fling my body between the warring factions to negotiate some sort of peace settlement, I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

It was part of the agreement Lori and I had made at the start of the year: at least once a month, we got the entire day off. No wake up duty, no school drop-off, no afternoon pickup, no activity shuttling, no dinner recap.

Nada.

So I sat, waiting for the inevitable détente that arrives just as everyone realizes that they have less than five minutes to leave the house if they want to get to school on time. This was the rhythm of our lives and hearing it from afar, I couldn’t help but smile.

For every argument the boys had about who was going sit closer to their sister, one of them would pour her milk while the other held her cup steady. When they weren’t jostling for a turn at the bathroom sink, the kids were high-fiving one another for the smallest things – clearing the table without being asked, putting a coat on by oneself, or remembering to grab a lunchbox. While Nick spread toothpaste for everyone and Gabe gathered the boots from the mudroom, Olivia grabbed books for them to read in the car.

(Often, the boys put the books back and chose ones themselves, but they didn’t let Olivia see them do it.)

I watched them through the basement window, walking hand in hand to the car. Another successful morning…and there’d been nothing for me to do but watch it unfold.

It’s so hard to see the beauty of one’s life when you’re in the midst of it. To see the miraculous in the mundane. Yesterday was such a gift, a chance to appreciate how privileged I am to parent these kids, and how fortunate I am to share the experience with such a loving partner.

I took a day off yesterday.
And the world didn’t stop.
Instead, it only got better.

Kiddos and Books 12/14/13

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KiddosBooks

No, not even yesterday’s snow stopped story time! And yes, I’m so glad I woke up at 5am to clear the snow so I could do it again at 8.

Books We Read

Snowyday

The Snowy Day

Kiddos were entranced by the simple story of Peter and his snowy day. The best part was watching the kids look at the book, then out the window, then back to the book, then out the window as they slowly realized that like Peter, they were having their very own snowy day.

Clickclackmoo

Click Clack Moo

This is a story time fav – cows and hens who strike for better working conditions and a farmer smart enough to know when he should negotiate. Added bonus – kiddos learn “big” words like furious and ultimatum – concepts with which they (and their parents) are all too familiar.

Notabox

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

The perfect book for the holidays…when all of those lovely Amazon boxes appear on your doorstep and you wonder what you can do with them.  Well, they can be a race car, a robot, a time machine (big fav in our house), a dinosaur catcher…

PeteWhiteShoes

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

One of my musically inclined parents upped the ante on this book and started reading Pete in different rock star voices.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard his versions of Prince, Bob Dylan and Axl Rose singing “I love my red shoes.”

The next Kiddos & Books Story Time will be Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 9:30am
The Common Cup – 1501 W. Morse, Chicago

Kiddos and Books – 12/7/13

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KiddosBooks

Brrrrrr! A chilly start to a Saturday morning! Thanks to everyone who braved the cold!

Today we read:

MrWani

The Fantastic Mr. Wani by Kanako Usui

A visual feast about a crocodile on his way to a party.  Lots of giggles from the crowd.

Notabox

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Rabbit has something next to him…but it is absolutely positively NOT A BOX! Great for encouraging imaginative play in youngsters.

HarryDirtyDog

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

A classic tale about a dog and his avoidance of bath time.  Really, Harry?

PeteWhiteShoes

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

Pete’s got some fancy white shoes, but when you walk through town, who knows what you’ll step in! Nice, repetitive story makes it easy for kiddos to follow along, and it introduces colors.  Plus, Pete’s just a cool cat.

Kiddos & Books – Every Saturday – 9:30am
The Common Cup – 1501 W. Morse, Chicago

Things That Go THUMP in the Night

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A few nights ago, Lori and I were logging some late-night hours in our state-of-the-art home office – the basement of our 100-year-old Victorian. We were catching up on client emails, redoing budgets, and putting together project plans for upcoming work. As much as I adore our home, it can be…quirky. I mean, yes, it’s haunted – that’s another story – but more than that, the laws of physics simply don’t seem to apply.

Come to think of it, the two things may be related.

Apart from the flickering lights, burned out batteries, unidentifiable smells, and random cold spots, the thing that really makes this house odd is how it treats sound. It’s just…weird. We can all be in the kitchen at the back of the house and very clearly hear footsteps going up the front stairway. I can be in the mudroom and hear Lori yelling from our bedroom to turn off the stove, but not hear Gabe in the powder room yelling for someone to help him wipe his butt. Or we can be in the frontyard and hear Olivia’s books landing with dull thuds on the floor in her protest of nap time.

Even our neighbors across the alley have become extended members of our funky aural family. On more than one occasion, we have found a morning-dew-covered bottle of wine waiting for us as we hustle the kids to school after a particularly challenging evening where Olivia’s non-stop screaming at her brothers to give her the damn hula hoop has apparently traveled from our backyard into their front sitting room.

Sounds like this might help after last night.
It’s happy hour somewhere.
xoxo
- P and T

Perhaps it is the house’s coping mechanism, after raising the previous owners’ eight rambunctious boys – this disperssal of sound to keep itself sane. Whatever the origins, it has become so integrated into our everyday “normal” that we don’t register it anymore.

That’s probably why, after the first THUMP we heard that night, we just lifted our heads from our computer screens, shrugged, then went back to typing. After all, it wasn’t unusal for Nick to literally hit the wall to try to fall asleep after he figuratively hit it.

“Do you think we should check on them,” Lori asked. Translation: I’m in the middle of putting together this budget, so could you go upstairs and make sure they haven’t tied the drawstrings of their robes to the ceiling fan…again.

“Actually,” I rationalized, not wanting to stop work on a creative brief I promised the client, “I’m sure they’re fine.”

The second THUMP was accompanied by the patter of little feet scurrying down the hall, followed promptly by a third THUMP and more giggling.

We simultaneously sighed, stopped typing and headed upstairs.

“Nick? Gabe?”

Silence met us as we ascended the stairs.

“Guys?”

We rounded the bannister, and heard giggling coming from behind the guest bedroom door. Stepping across the threshold, we saw what all of the commotion was about. The boys had built a reading nest – complete with every blanket from their beds and every book from their shelves – literally, we had to step over Go Dog Go and The Boxcar Children to find stable footing.

“Um…”

Where should I start? My first instinct was to scold.

It’s 9:30! Why are you up?! Why does it look like a library truck threw up in here?! Why can’t you just read in bed? What part of ‘goodnight, stay in bed, see you in the morning’ did you not understand?

But then…they just looked so adorable, nestled in their little reading fort, pillows on the perimeter, books stacked haphazardly, many open at once as if they were remixing lines from each author to make an entirely new piece (for all I know, they were). Then I remembered that we had made the mistake of giving them Lori’s homemade high protein flax bagels right before bed. Olivia had declined, which was why she was still slumbering in the adjacent room.

Then there was the fact that as a kid, I had ruined my eyesight reading by flashlight long after my parents had gone to bed. Well Hello, Karma. How you doin’?

“Why don’t you guys get one book to take back to your room, ok?”

Nick chose a book on evolution while Gabe opted for Winnie the Pooh.

“Can we stay up a little it to read?”

Lori and I smiled at one another, completely on the same wavelength. “Of course you can,” Lori nodded. “And we’ll even stay upstairs and rub your backs.”

That seemed to ease the tension in our elder boy. Grabbing hold of his brother’s hand, he walked back to his room, helping Gabe into his bed before climbing into his own.

Within five minutes both boys were fast asleep. Lori and I tiptoed out of the bedroom and returned to our basement enclave.

Whether it’s a home bursting with books, or a snack packed with protein, we get back what we put in. A lifetime love of reading, an evening burst of energy – kids use whatever we give them. So can we really be upset when Nick walks into a door because he hasn’t looked up from his latest Captain Underpants book? Or Gabe demands not one or two but seven bedtime stories, including poetry? Or Olivia sends our blood pressure up when she tries to bring a stack of ten books down the stairs with her? Or they demand something from Lori’s kitchen because it’s just so freakin’ good?

As we strive to nourish their bodies and feed their spirits, we must remember that the rewards we are so eager to reap will appear on their terms and their time.

And like the sounds that bounce through our home, will be random, yet… inevitable.

We must simply wait -

And listen.

What Makes Me Tick

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Nadine

On the eve of my 43rd birthday, I thought it would be fun to share 43 facts about me.

1. I grew up on Doctor Who. It shaped the proud geek I am today.

2. My children are the most important people in my life.

3. I learned #2 from my parents. (Thanks mom and dad!)

4. I wish I had an accent, so that when I tell people I’m from Trinidad they don’t think I’m just making it up.

5. I get most of my story ideas on the way to client meetings.

6. I get up at 5 every day because it’s the only time the house is quiet.

7. I can keep grudges for a very long time. It’s something I’m working on.

8. I skipped 2nd grade and went to college at 16. My parents regret the choice, but I think it’s better to be forced to swim rather than wade thru boredom.

9. In 3rd grade I decided to read my way thru the YA SF section.

10. I hope at least one of my kids will be a Doctor Who fan. It’s looking pretty slim.

11. In law school, I was voted “least likely to be seen in the building.” I was not there to receive the award.

12. I wish I had attended Montessori longer.

13. I knew Lori was “the one” even before I knew her name.

14. Sometimes houses talk to me. It’s rude not to answer them.

15. The song “Loving You” will make me cry every single time.

16. I am a terrible procrastinator.

17. My thinking face looks like a scowl. It’s something I have to warn clients about.

18. My pet peeve is hypocrisy.

19. My greatest fear is irrelevance. It is the inverse of my strength.

20. I once called Greta Garbo’s apartment. She did not answer.

21. Movies like World War Z terrify me, not because of the zombies, but because I can’t imagine how my kids would fare in such situations.

22. My idea of the perfect day is sitting in the library…for hours.

23. If I could do it again, I would be an elementary school teacher.

24. I’m pretty sure I ruined my eyes watching late-night TV in my bedroom. I covered the top and sides with my pillows and watched thru a tiny opening so the flickering wouldn’t get my parents’ attention.

25. I have a weakness for British accents.  See #1.

26. My dream is to live abroad for a month every year with the family.

27. My other dream is to adopt as many children as need homes.

28. I can find anything in my house blindfolded. I am that anal.

29. My favorite book is Hope for the Flowers. A teacher read it to me when I was 7.

30. I really don’t like the outdoors.

31. My favorite short story is “Exhalation” by Ted Chiang.

32. Occasionally, the future shares itself with me. This happened more frequently when I was a kid.

33. I smile a lot when I’m ticked.

34. I watched the house we live in for 2 years before it officially went on the market.

35. I truly believe I am at least 5’6, and am surprised when I can’t reach things.

36. My go-to jam is a mix of 80′s TV themes.

37. I would like to faint at the sight of blood, but my dislike of showing weakness overrides it.

38. I love the high that comes from fasting.

39. My favorite movie is Green Card. Yeah, it really is.

40. I wasn’t afraid of vampires until Blacula came out.

41. Boiling water in the microwave is the extent of my cooking prowess.

42. I hope there is life on other planets.

43. I am a very private person.

What’s the good word?

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"Give me the children until they are seven, and anyone may have them afterwards." – attrib. St. Francis Xavier

“Give me the child until he is seven, and anyone may have them afterwards.” – attrib. St. Francis Xavier

“Crossword.”

“C-R-O-S-S-“ Nick’s voice falters as he tries to remember the next…word.

“Nick, hon, just sound it out.” We’re driving to school, running through our morning routine of reviewing the week’s spelling words.  Beside him, Gabe plays the TeachMe Preschool app that features a teaching mouse and lots of sticker rewards, while Olivia is happily reading her Elmo TouchAndLearn book, complete with song snippets.

The car is…loud.

I lift my eyes from the homework packet to catch his in the rearview mirror.  This is our 3rd time spelling this word in as many minutes, and for the life of me I cannot understand why 4 simple letters won’t sink into his wonderfully absorbent brain.

“Crossword, C-R-O-S-S-W-O-R-D, Crossword.” I say impatiently. “Just do it like that. Say the word first so you remember.  That’s how spelling bee kids learn their words.”

He matches my impatience with a healthy dose of his own. “Ug-GUH!” is his new favorite expression. “I know my words!”

“Well, clearly you don’t” – then I get that warning look from Lori who is navigating early-fall construction traffic to get us to school on time.

“Let me reframe my position, Nicholas.” Lori rolls her eyes at the formality. But really, I can’t let him think he’s gained any territory in this early-morning skirmish.  “This is one of the more efficient ways for you to get 100% on your spelling test on Friday.”

He sulks in silence, muttering the letters under his breath so I can’t hear him.

“If I don’t know what you’re saying, I won’t know if you’re right. So we’ll just have to keep doing this until you get it.”

“Find the…OVAL.”

The electronic voice – chirpier that Siri, but nevertheless insistent – chimes from Gabe’s iPad.  He is still trying to pick the oval, having already clicked on the octagon and trapezoid.  “Gabe, hon,” I try to keep exasperation from creeping into my voice. ”it’s an egg – look for something that looks like an egg.”

“An egg can look like a circle when Mommy poaches them,” Nick suggests, and I can’t tell if he’s really being helpful or just disruptive.

Gabe presses the screen.

That is the…CIRCLE.  Where is the…OVAL?”

By process of elimination, there’s only 1 option left, which he chooses.

Good job,” the mouse chirps.  “You found the…OVAL.”

“Crossword, Nick.” I raise my voice above the din.

“C-R-O-S-S….um….”

There has got to be a better way.

****

In yoga class, I purposely place my mat slightly askew from the straight grooves of the hardwood floor. As a recovering perfectionist, I have chosen to be “off center” so I can meditate on “imperfection”, even though I know it will drive me batty as I move from downward dog to plank, then cobra.

My yoga instructor breezes in, takes a quick survey of the room, then walks directly to me.

“Up,” she commands, then realigns my mat. “You have to start in alignment.” I sulk as I get back on.

“Namaste,” she greets the class.

I mutter in response.

“Namaste my a- ”

***

“Ask me if you have any questions, Nick, ok?”

Nick has spread his homework out on the coffee table, in clear defiance of our usual routine.  He’s hasn’t taken his backpack down to the distraction-free homework nook that we created for the kids, complete wall decorations chosen for their subliminal messages –

  • A Bucky Fuller Projection map (The world is not as we see it.)
  • A Spider Man poster (With great power comes great responsibility.)
  • An Iron Man poster (Make cool s&^% and save the world.)
  • The previous week’s school work (We know you can do it because you’ve done it before).

Nope.

Instead he’s in our front parlor looking through the picture window as he chews on the pencil’s eraser. I watch surreptitiously as he reads thru the spelling test words, then copies each one on the spelling test page.  It’s not the way we usually do it, where he has 5 minutes to look at the words before I give him a closed-book test. Any word he gets wrong he must write 3 times, saying the letters as he goes.

He presents his self-administered “test” to me a few minutes later. And I can clearly see where he has erased his errors.

“I got them all right,”

“Well, technically – “

A loud throat-clearing from the kitchen forces me reconsider my approach.  Why is Lori always one mouth-noise away from letting me make my VERY IMPORTANT POINT?!  “I see that you have written all of your words.” I choose to make an observation, rather than pass judgment. “How do you feel about your test tomorrow?”

“Great!  Can I go play outside now?”

I want to test him, to make sure those tricky words like kitchen and since are firmly in place, but instead I nod. The proof will come when he brings the test home, when he sees that my way is clearly the best –

****

“BEST TEST EVER!”

Nick waves the 13/10 test happily, gold start glinting in the sunlight.  Not only had he correctly spelled this week’s words, but he gotten the bonus words right too.

“That’s great, sweetie!”

“Ask me a word!  I know all of them!” And without waiting for my prompt, he runs through them.

Nick has his own way of learning, a style that works for him. No longer a malleable mass of random ideas and feelings – though, I doubt any of our kids are truly that – my son is a reflective, insightful, complex, sometimes exasperating, human being. I do my best to guide him, but have to remember that this is his journey to take.

I’m just along for the ride.

“I am so proud of you, kiddo. Do you know why?”

“Because I got them all right?”

“There’s that,” I concede. Then I pull him close, because I really want him to get this.  “You really know yourself. And I love who you are.”

We fist bump, miming an explosion in the air.

“I love you too, Nana.”

Word.